On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry
The subject of one of my past book club meetings was On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry. It is a book of Irish cultural-historical-fiction, written ever so beautifully.
A few of my book club members weren’t sure On Canaan’s Side was a book they would want to read. For me, there is great sadness in this story of Lilly Bere, a young Irish woman who fled Ireland in fear and haste. Lilly’s boyfriend/fiancé, Tadg had become a target of the I.R.A. Lilly’s life, by association, was also in great peril. Her father quickly secured passage for both Lilly and Tadg on a ship bound for America. What happens from there is the rest of Lilly’s life.
Here is my response to anyone who may be on-the-fence about reading On Canaan’s Side: I finished reading On Canaan’s Side many months ago, yet the story of Lilly Bere stays with me. I went back and re-read the first chapter and it was enough to flood my heart with all the emotion invoked by my past reading of the book. I find it so strange that my Irish-immigrant grandmother was also called, Lilly. My grandmother was a young Irish-Protestant woman wed to a young Irish-Catholic man. And my grandparents, much like Lilly and Tadg, fled Ireland aboard a ship bound for America.
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On Canaan’s Side might not be for everyone, but if you stick with it, I feel sure you will never forget Lilly. I cannot say that I completely understand Lilly’s viewpoint of her life events. However, I can say the story of her life, which Lilly tells us at the age of 89, stays with me. I don’t know that any of us can completely understand the feelings and viewpoints of another person. But, On Canaan’s Side, led me to question and contemplate my own feelings and viewpoints. And I think that is a meaningful take-away, at least it is for me.
The audio version of On Canaan’s Side has a most wonderful narrator. Wanda McCaddon literally immerses you into the story with her beautiful Irish brogue. However, I will say that even though as a child I was accustomed to the Irish brogue, it took me a bit before I could catch every word. I believe listening to the audiobook really brought Lilly’s story to life for me.
If you are on the fence about reading, or finishing this book, I hope you decide on the latter. On Canaan’s Side is beautiful literature by author, Sebastian Barry, and truly worth a read.
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